Kovel measures size of Belarus task

Belarus have it all to do against Italy in their final Group A game in Helsingborg and forward Leonid Kovel is under no illusions about the size of the challenge ahead – "this will be our hardest game."

Leonid Kovel is said to be the quickest player at this championship
Leonid Kovel is said to be the quickest player at this championship ©Getty Images

Belarus have it all to do against Italy in their final Group A fixture in Helsingborg and forward Leonid Kovel is under no illusions about the size of the task. "This will be our hardest game," he told uefa.com.

The hard way
The eastern Europeans need a victory over the Azzurrini and a win for either side in the section's other match between Serbia and Sweden to rise from bottom position to claim a semi-final berth. In the event of a Serbia-Sweden draw in Malmo, they will have to beat Italy by three clear goals. "We will do our best, but Italy only need a point," the 22-year-old said. "I think they will play in their usual way. It will be very difficult, I can feel it even now."

Onus to attack
The Belarus vice-captain sees similarities between Italy and the Serbia team they held 0-0 in their second group game on Friday. "We expect more of the same from the Italians. They are mobile too, they have good skill and technique." But this time Belarus will have to push forward in search of goals. "We had good moments against Serbia," he said, citing several of the counterattacking opportunities Yuri Kurnenin's men fashioned. "We have to use the ball more effectively in those situations. We have to be patient waiting for our chance."

Match fitness
Kovel is one of the most versatile players in the Belarus squad – a forward for the Under-21s who plays right-back for the senior side. Formerly with FC Dinamo Minsk and FC Karpaty Lviv, he is now at FC Saturn Moskovskaya Oblast in the Russian Premier-Liga. If he has figured in eleven of Saturn's 12 matches so far this season, other members of the Belarus party arrived in Sweden short on playing time. Hence, perhaps, Kovel's concern about their physical condition ahead of the Italy game. "We did not have much time to recover," he said, adding: "We will see how the Italians handle it too. However, we are ready to fight and I think we can expect a good game."

'Use your head'
Three of Italy's players have shaved their heads during this UEFA European U21 Championship yet Kovel cannot see the trend catching on in the Belarus camp. "We have our own habits," he said. "We always get together as a group before each match. We talk about the game, about tactics. I don't think having your head cropped can help. If you are lucky, you are lucky." Of course it is not just about luck – you have to be clever too, as Kovel notes. Described as "one of the fastest players at these finals" by Serbia coach Slobodan Krčmarević, the Belarus No9 said: "Running is not the main thing in football. You have to use your head on the football pitch." Shaved or otherwise.

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